Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My Eyebrows were Raised, My Jaw Dropped

Recently, I read a Peggy Noonan piece at the Wall Street Journal's online editorial page. While no mirror was available to reveal my reaction, the further I read, the more I could experience my eyebrows raising and my jaw dropping. "Peggy" I exclaimed inwardly, "you must be kidding!" Was I outraged? No. Just flabbergasted. The conclusion of this editorial I would expect to find in the Left-wing blogosphere.

In her piece entitled A Father's Tears http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110009355 , Noonan contrasts the different things that would cause Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush to cry. Reagan was moved by ideas of freedom and the sweep of American history. Not so Mr. Bush. Personal issues seem to be what affects Bush emotionally. The love of family, not the sweep of history, moves Bush, Noonan declares (or rather speculates). From this contrast, Noonan moves on to analyze the current president's public demeanor in the face of the last election and bad news from Iraq. She finds his demeanor wanting. She sees no suffering expressed in his looks nor speech.

"But George W. Bush seems, in the day to day, the same as he was. It is part of the Bush conundrum--a supernal serenity or a confidence born of cluelessness? You decide." (My eyebrows began their assent)

Noonan goes on: "Where you stand on the war will likely determine your answer. But I'll tell you, I wonder about it and do not understand it, either what it is or what it means. I'd ask someone in the White House, but they are still stuck in Rote Talking Point Land: 'The president of course has his moments of weariness, but is sustained by his knowledge of the ultimate rightness of his course...'

"If he suffers, they might tell us; it would make him seem more normal, which is always heartening to see in a president.

"But maybe there is no suffering"

"Maybe he outsources suffering. Maybe he leaves it to his father." (It was here that my jaw dropped. Between my upraised eyebrows and dropped jaw, it is a wonder my stopped-up ears did not pop.)

Noonan compares Bush's demeanor to photographs of Lincoln and Johnson. In these photographs, one can see the burden of war reflected in their features. Noonan wants Bush to show himself vulnerable in public. I for one do not.

History shows that the Presidents who hide their anguish are better able to lead.

Much is made of Lincoln's melancholy. However, during the course of the Civil War, Lincoln was the one that raised the spirits of the rest of his administration.

"...Lincoln possessed an uncanny understanding of his shifting moods, a profound self-awareness that enabled him to find constructive ways to alleviate sadness and stress. Indeed, when he is compared with his collegues, it is clear that he possessed the most even-tempered disposition of them all. Time and again, he was the one who dispelled his collegues' anxiety and sustained their spirits with his gift of storytelling and his life-affirming sense of humor. When resentment and contention threatened to distroy his administration, he refused to be provoked by petty grievences, to submit to jealousy, or to brood over perceived slights. Through the appalling pressures he faced day after day, he retained an unflagging faith in his country's cause." (Delores Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.) This is the model Bush seems to follow. I would rather have him follow this model than the example of Jimmy (We are all in a malaise) Carter and his public suffering during the Iranian Hostage crises. During the Depression, FDR never allowed any private suffering to be expressed publicly. The mood of his White house was one of constant good times. To have done otherwise would have rendered him unable to raise the spirits of the average American.

The historian, Edmund Morris, in an interview, related a story Ronald Reagan told him. It was during the Vietnam War when LBJ was president and Reagan was California's governor. The president told the governor that the fear of a nuclear war on his watch kept him up at nights. The fear robbed him of his sleep. Reagan was not impressed; in fact, he was dismissive of Johnson. Reagan thought that if he were president, his degree of self-confidence would be such that he would not expect anything so catastophic to happen while he was in the White House. Reagan would get his sleep. And if Bush follows Reagan's model rather than listen to Noonan, I'll get my sleep as well.


Anonymous said...


Might the issue rather be having a sober demeanor that communicates the gravity of the current crises of our nation? I am not looking for melancholy but maybe a little less of the Prez's, for lack of a better word, goofiness.

I agree that our Prez should not look overwhelmed.


Mr. Guthrie said...

I agree that Bush often looks goofy and there is no excuse for his being unable to articulate his own positions and how high the stakes are in Iraq. Having no T.V. has made it difficult to evaluate his demeanor at recent public appearences. However, I think Noonan wants Bush to express emotions of anguish that would cause people to think he is losing his resolve and his ability to function as president. Truman agonized over dropping the bomb, yet he told the public he lost no sleep over his decision. Why? He did not want his political enemies to think he was vulnerable, nor did he want to give critics ammunition to hamper a future president facing similiar circumstances.